Thursday, December 8, 2016

Christmas Trees on Parade!

Join me on a lovely parade of Christmas trees from Blogland!  You will see an amazing amount of beautiful trees, all from blogs that I love.  Each blog will offer tips for decorating a tree as well, featured in italics so it is easily found!

My decorating tip:  If at all possible, have your tree visible through a window.  It make the most charming background on the inside and the prettiest decoration from the outside!

In my home there are currently three full sized trees decorated for Christmas.  This is down from five last year and down from thirteen in years past.  My living room tree is now housing all our family ornaments, including those handmade, from vacations and collectibles.  It has over 300 ornaments on a skinny tree.  In my eyes it is simply beautiful.

The tree I am sharing with you, though, is my daughter's tree.  This is in our guest room, which our daughter claims as her own.  That's fine by me, I want her to visit as often as she can!!  This tree has a seaside theme to it.  There are two family collections of ornaments, one are sleigh bells given to my husband while he was a principal and the other a Hallmark collectible on the 12 Days of Christmas. The silver bells and clear acrylic make perfect accompaniments to the starfish, greens and silvers of the tree.

Hallmark special collection

Silver sleigh bells collection

A few special ornaments give a tree focus and beauty.  We love the soft green of the stocking and the adorable tag.

Check out the other beautiful trees from wonderful bloggers! 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Homemade Christmas~ Homemade Vanilla Extract

Another great gift for a hostess gift or a gift for your coworkers is this easy to make, but oh-so-useful vanilla extract.  If you cook at all, you use vanilla extract.  This one is real vanilla, not an imitation vanilla that is often found in supermarkets.

Vanilla comes from an orchid that is grown mostly in Mexico.  That's why people always bring back vanilla from Mexico when they go.  I did, and it was delicious.

All you need are vanilla beans, plain vodka, and nice jars.

Clean and dry the jars.  I know it seems weird to dry the jars when you are going to pour liquid in them, but we want them as sanitary as we can get them.  

Take a vanilla bean and slice it down one side, without cutting through to the other.  Separate the opening a little bit.  Put the bean in the jar.  Pour vodka into the jar until it covers the bean.  Place the lid on the jar.  Store it in a dark place for at least two weeks.  Give the jars a little shake every now and then to distribute the vanilla.  You want the liquid to be dark.  I think mine needs some more time.

Use as you would regular vanilla extract.

Another use of the vanilla bean pod is to put one in a cup of sugar.  Let the vanilla bean infuse the sugar with the flavor of vanilla.  Use this special sugar sprinkled on top of cupcakes or donuts.  It is wonderful!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Essential Oil Blends for Christmas

I am a huge fan of essential oils. 

I have had success in treating small ailments using them but what is even more important than that is, they smell so wonderful that I feel happy when their scents are in the air.  Who doesn't want to feel happy, I ask you?  My husband and I love to go to sleep with the night air scented with lavender and whatever oil we feel we might need.  Sometimes it is "Breathe" or "Thieves" or "Peace and Calming" but whatever it is, we sleep soundly and wake up purposefully the next day!

These blends are simply for setting the stage for Christmas, although Cozy Up by the Fire actually has a couple of oils that are good for fending off colds and headache.  That's an additional bonus!  I diffuse these oils by using an oil diffuser I purchased online.  You fill the container up with water, add the number of drops of oils that is suggested, turn the diffuser on and let it do the work!

I use these in place of potpourri, since I don't have to watch it or make sure it has enough liquid.  I turn the diffuser on and forget about it!

Gingerbread Men is a perfect scent if you are trying to sell your home but do not want to leave cookies baking in the oven or even left out on the countertop.  The diffuser will create the scent of fresh baked cookies for you!

Cozy Up by the Fire is a perfect scent for when you are hosting a holiday party, or if you are just sitting at home watching a holiday movie.  The scent is fresh and lively but warm and cozy, all at the same time.  The Thieves oils will help ward off colds and if you have a minor headache, the peppermint will smell extra good to you!

I love Christmas Tree Farm!  I am allergic to pine and this allows me to have a little of the true Christmas tree scent in the air.  Essential oils are made from real plants, so if you are allergic to evergreens like I am, try this in small doses at first, or consult with your physician if your allergies are really bad.

Do you use essential oils?   Which blends do you love?  Share them in the comments! 

Monday, November 28, 2016

2016 Christmas Cookie Exchange

The Fourth Annual Christmas Cookie Exchange was held at my house on Sunday afternoon with ten guests including me!  I love hosting this event and my small dining room and kitchen were filled to bursting with people who love baking and Christmas as much as I do!

My friends at Oriental Trading were gracious to send me my paper products for the event.  I chose my all time favorite Christmas characters, The Peanuts Gang, to help me with the decorations.  Cute napkins, plates, cookie containers and key chains for door prizes all set the tone for the fun afternoon.

Each guest brings one dozen cookies for each of the guests invited.  Each dozen is packaged for easy trading.  My cute little Snoopy boxes held one dozen Hugs and Kisses Christmas Cookies easily.

For drinks there was lemonade and water, and a vodka punch made with pineapple juice and citrus vodka.  The punch is served over ice and is a light drink.  These adorable glasses (check naughty or nice) hold a nice amount of drink.

I always serve a light lunch with our cookie exchange and this time I made a Pasta e Fagioli Soup and a Quick Italian Salad.  With good bread and our cookies, we were set for food.  There was a hot chocolate station for those who wanted it with peppermint spoons to stir with.  Yum.

Here are the cookies that our guests brought:

Chocolate Chip

Smores Cookies

Grandma's Monster Cookies

No Bake Fudge and Coconut Cookies 
Fudge Drops

Mini Chocolate Chip Snowballs

Chocolate Caramel Blossoms

Lace Cookies and Molasses Sugar Cookies

And the darling sack they came in!
Hugs and Kisses Christmas Cookies
Which do you think you want to try?  I can promise you that they are all delicious!

Here is the recipe for my Hugs and Kisses Christmas Cookies.

1 stick of butter, softened
1 c white granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 t vanilla
2 c flour
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
2 T milk
24 Hershey's Hugs, unwrapped
24 Hershey's Kisses, unwrapped
1/2 c colored sugar

Preheat oven to 350.  Cover a cookie sheet with parchment.  Beat butter, sugar, egg and vanilla together until smooth and creamy.  Stir flour, baking soda and salt together.  Alternate scoops of flour and milk into the butter mixture until dough forms.  Make 1 inch balls and roll in colored sugar, powdered sugar or granulated sugar.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, until set with a light brown bottom. Remove from oven and let rest 2-3 minutes.  Gently push a Hug or a Kiss into the center of the cookie.  Remove from cookie sheet and completely cool.  Chocolate kiss or hug should be firm.

Our Cookie Exchange was fantastic and so much fun!  I can't wait to do it again next year!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Outdoor Decorating 2016

My husband and I were talking about outdoor decorating this morning when we were out searching for the pine garland we love for the outside of our house.  We both agreed that while it is ok to do the decorating for the outside of the house before Thanksgiving, it is not ok to turn your lights on.  So when we came home tonight after dinner and saw all the lights that were on in our neighborhood, we were aghast. (secretly though, I was thrilled!)

2015 Outside House Decorations

Where do you stand on this question:  Is it ok to have your Christmas outside lights on before Thanksgiving?

We plan for two scenes:  The nighttime scene, where there are lights and candles on the porch or in windows and the daytime scene, where you can enjoy a charming porch of beautiful decorations.

Theme or no theme?  We do not use a theme but we always enjoy those clever people who can make a Santa's workshop on their front lawn!  We have collected a number of decorations over time and the best I do is to mix up where they go and maybe add a new decoration or two each year, and "retire" those decorations who have lived out their Christmas life.

Working lights?  We check each set of lights before adding them on the columns, fence or doorway. NO ONE wants to have to take down the lights after they have been put up!  We also check for extension cords and timers, too.

Wreaths?  Check your wreaths to see if they are fluffy and ready to sparkle on your porch.  I usually remake the bows each year, but if the bows just need a little fluffing after being stored all year, that's a great time savings!

Outdoor miscellaneous?  Make sure your decorations are anchored if you live in a windy area like we do.  You will want to make sure that your decorations are heavy enough to withstand some winter winds!  We have chased down enough pillows to last a lifetime!  We love using the hooks that stay on strong but can be taken off easily.  We use the clear ones and leave them up all year.

Enough help?  We've learned that it is ok to ask for help with decorating.  Our son-in-law helps with the roping around the columns and we hire a high school kid to help us bring trees and crates up the stairs.  We'll do the same when it is time to take it all down, too.

Stay tuned to see pictures of our neighborhood in both the night time and day time scenes.  We have a lot of  homes who do both very well!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Festive DIY Christmas Tree Ornaments

So many ornaments, so little time!  I really wanted to make each of these ornaments this season and time is just getting away from me.  I did want to share these with you, so that if you need an ornament for a special occasion, you would have a great list to choose from.

I did make dried orange slices two years ago and boy, they made the house smell delicious all through the season.  I combined them with a darling gingerbread tree and that got a lot of compliments!  Have you tried the cinnamon dough ornaments?  I made a bunch of cinnamon stars for the gingerbread tree and between the stars and oranges, it sure smelled fantastic!

Do you hang all your ornaments from trees?  My next investigation is going to be unique ways to display ornaments.  If you have an idea to contribute, leave me a message in the comments!

Polyfoam Tree Ornaments – by Craft Passion
Dried Citrus Ornaments – by a Beautiful Mess
Tissue Pom Pom Ornaments – by Lia Griffith
Wooden Spool Tree Ornaments – by Shaken Together Life
Rustic Twig Tree Ornament – by Funky Junk Interiors
Mini Tree Ornaments – by Cupcakes and Crinoline
Vintage Map Ornament – by Chic California
DIY Christmas Baubles – by Craft Ideas
Winter Hat Ornaments – by Landee See Landee Do
Plaid Ornaments – by Country Chic Cottage
Night Light Bulb Ornaments – by Modge Podge Rocks
Scented Beeswax Ornaments – by Soap Queen

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Two Month Countdown!

While I plan for the Christmas holiday all year around, looking for cute ornament crafts, or recipes to try, or movies and books I want to see and read, the last two months are really about the events and people. My preparation helps me to be able to enjoy all that is around me in a calm and peaceful way.

Ok, maybe not so much.

But, mostly that is true.  There is always a last minute something that unweaves the best plans, but that is life, deal with it and move along!

One of the things I love to do at this time is to create my calendar.  I have a wonderful Christmas Notebook that has been with me since 1977 when I was married.  The notebook looks quite a bit different, but I love looking through it at things I did in the past.  Things have surely changed.

I print a two month calendar from a Google Extension and have a ball decorating it with my washi tapes and stickers.  I don't go over board, as this is a working calendar.  I just like it to be festive. Here it is before I add in all our family's dates!  I have emailed my children and have them looking into possible dates, since I have to share them now.

I grab all the city's advertisements on dates for open houses, light displays, and church services so we can schedule them all in.  It never fails, two of the season's most fun events will land on the same night, but we make a decision and don't regret the rest!

What do you do to stay organized for Christmas?